During my school years, a teacher once said to me, ‘Camilla, you need to learn how to use your powers for good, and not evil’.
Now - don’t get the wrong idea… it wasn’t like I was setting fire to kittens behind the bike shed or anything, it’s just that I always seemed to be in trouble. I LOVED school, so much so that when I was in my first years, instead of getting dressed in my pyjamas at night, I’d put on my school clothes and lie in bed so that I’d be ready to get up and go as soon as the sun poked its head round my pink curtains.
I know, right?… NERD ALERT!
The only thing I needed were the coke bottle glasses.
I really did love school, but I found so much of it restrictive. I hated (and still do), being told what to do and when to do it. My boyfriend has sussed this out and now can very easily gain my compliance, simply by letting me do what needs to be done in my own time. He’s an astute man.
He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands…On The Spoon
Basically, whenever I saw an opportunity to flick a middle finger to the powers that be, I would. I remember getting thrown out of music for using a plastic spoon to strum ‘He’s got the whole world in his hands’. My teacher totally lost it and launched herself at me like a manic cat, brandishing her guitar screaming ‘I said, put the spoon down!!!’ I spent the rest of the lesson outside.
Then there was that time I was squirting water at the ceiling in science class with a giant, horse-sized syringe I’d found. My teacher threw me out and when she left the class with a video playing about something boring like microbes, I snuck back in and proceeded to amuse my friends in the front row with a giant bubble blowing display (under the innocent guise of pretending to need to wash my hands). That landed me a visit in the Vice-Principal’s office, wherein the conversation at the start of this post ensued.
Ok, I’ve Got Authority Issues! (Or Is That Issues With Control?)
I guess I have a real problem with authority. The Vice-Principal who also happened to be my Ancient History teacher, knew that as one of her A students I had no problem with the tasks that were set me, I just got bored easily and then baulked when someone tried to curb my attempts to amuse myself. That was no excuse for fooling around with massive syringes filled with water though. I should have been using my powers for good and not evil, apparently.
This little personality trait has come back to haunt me recently, when I realised I probably have a need for control over things in my life, that at times, can border on being unhealthy (particularly a need for things to be ‘perfect’ with regards to my performance in the work sphere). So, rather than let this ruin my life, I decided that after 28 years, it was time for me to get a handle on my need for control and try to obtain a greater understanding of where it came from.
Control is pretty much a running theme through many of the self help books I’ve read over the years (and I’ve read my fair share – my beautiful giant ikea bookcase looks like the personal development section of Borders). But, somewhat irritatingly, all the books I’ve read just tell you to ‘let go of your need for control’ and that’s about it. As a big believer in obtaining strategies to tackle my problems, that piece of advice has never really sat too well with me. So I decided to look further into this issue and come up with some different ideas on how to ‘let go’ of control, myself.
A Starting Point… Why Should I Let Go Of Control?
As with everything, I always need to find a good reason why I should do something, otherwise I won’t. In this case I thought about the reasons it would benefit me to turn down the ‘control freak’ factor.
- Stressing about trying to control a situation takes up a lot of time and energy.
- If you let go of the need to control things – like relationships for example – you open up a space in that area of your life for new things to come in, new ways of being, new experiences and new peace.
- You’ll have a new reserve of energy to dedicate to more positive, life-enhancing activities (let’s face it, the negative-self talk that can arise from control freakism isn’t exactly life-enhancing is it?). If you spend all your time trying to solve everything on your own – chasing ‘perfection’ – you risk physical (not to mention, emotional) exhaustion.
- You’ll be able to attain a new sense of serenity and peace by accepting that ‘you’re human’. At the end of the day, we all have to deal with the human condition and maybe you don’t need to be so harsh with yourself about it.
- It’s no fun being around a control freak. If you’re constantly trying to ‘fix’ other people/situations and are dissatisfied with the way things are, you’re going to project that onto others around you – perhaps it might get to the point where you obsess about it and it’s the only topic of conversation. We all certainly have more to offer the world than that.
- By letting go of things you can’t control and allowing other people to be responsible for themselves, you’ll unload yourself of a huge burden. When this burden is off your shoulders, you’ll be able to appreciate life more, be more relaxed and have time to pursue things you’re really interested in. Life is meant to be fun, after all, right?
Some Common Types of Need For Control & How To Conquer Them
When we want control, it’s generally because we feel we’ve LOST control, or are ‘out of control’. We think that taking ACTION will help us regain control. We feel like we have to DO something to make things better again. In reality, what will do us the most good, is to get to the bottom of WHY we feel that we need to control things.
Fear Of Being Wrong
For me this isn’t so much of an issue, I’m pretty much ok with being wrong now (granted, I’ve had a lot of practice admitting it).
I realised that a need to be right and/or prove someone else wrong is simply the need to validate yourself in disguise, which is a need that originates in the ego. When you explore your ego some more and realise it’s not who you REALLY are, you automatically lose the need to be ‘right’ all the time – an experience which is hugely liberating. You find peace from other sources and your peace doesn’t come from being right. After all, it’s not much in the way of peace if you constantly have to keep defending your position, is it? And there will always be someone else, or some situation that will try to prove you or what you believe, wrong.
How to tackle it:
Life isn’t a power play. When you openly admit to yourself and to others that you have no need, nor any right to exercise, or attempt to exercise, control over people, you’ll feel a massive release. Just think, imagine if someone was trying to control you – wouldn’t that totally piss you off? It would piss me off. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see that being right and therefore needing to control outcomes is completely restricting someone else’s freedom – and whenever you attempt to control someone’s freedom, you’ll always lose out.
Work WITH others, rather than trying to reign over them – it’ll lower your stress levels massively (take for example a business owner who thinks, “They’re hopeless. They need me to tell them everything, otherwise nothing would ever get done.”) Really? Is that the complete truth? Have you ever given your team/other people an opportunity to demonstrate their ability? Step back for a while, create some space and see what happens. The sky won’t fall in, that’s for sure.
Next, take proactive steps to learn new behaviour. For example, try admitting you’re wrong (in safe situations to start), and then progressively, admit when you’re wrong in more diverse ways (and remember to be light about it). Everyone is wrong from time to time and it’s part of life, part of the process of learning what suits us best, how we can be our best and how to do things even better. Being wrong is NOT the end of the world. Find something funny about it and make light of the fact you’re wrong – then, just drop it and move the hell on! Life is short!
Fear Of Letting Go
Sometimes when you’re STILL holding on to control, it’s because you fear that you’re going to lose something. For example, do you fear you’ll lose a relationship if you let go of control of your partner? Is that fear founded in reality or is it tied to a deeper fear of abandonment?
Have others manipulated you into playing the role of ‘caretaker’ or ‘fixer’ – or have you taken that role on of your volition and now don’t know who you’d be if you weren’t the person that ‘saved the day’ and everyone in it all the time? Think of other things that could be affecting your need for control – are you afraid you’ll be thrown out of your comfort zone and hence lose your sense of security if you give up an addiction to a substance, food or some other activity?
How to tackle it:
Look long and hard at what you’re afraid of losing and write down what comes to mind. Do you constantly say to yourself, ‘I’ve only ever had total chaos and pain in my life, why should I expect it to be any different if I let them take care of themselves?’ or ‘I can’t give up on them yet,’ or even, ‘If I don’t make sure everything is perfect around here it will reflect badly on me and they might stop loving me’.
The time you invest in this exercise will be among the most valuable gifts you’ll ever give yourself. Once you’ve identified what you’re afraid of letting go of, you need to start doing exercises to let this thing go – because currently – it’s holding you back from being the biggest, brightest, fullest version of yourself. There’s an exercise for letting go of your need for control here.
Fear Of Not Being Good Enough
This is one that’s been a biggie for me. Perfectionism and a need to control everything in life, so that it’s ‘perfect’, is what created the negative thought patterns that eventually lead me into a deep depression. I still have that perfectionist streak in me and perhaps I’ll never completely eliminate it from my personality – but I can certainly try and make peace with it. The worst part of controlling life to achieve a standard of perfectionism is that you feel guilty when you don’t take action to improve something, or beat up on yourself when you don’t stop something from happening that was probably out of your control anyway.
How to tackle it:
One of the best ways to tackle this kind of need for control is a good harsh dose of reality. I needed to get realistic about the expectations I had of myself and see that they were impossible. It’s great to have high standards, but high standards at the expense of your self esteem is so not cool. Friends are great for providing a few helpings of rationality in this case – you just have to go to them with an open mind and a WILLINGNESS to listen and take in their objective view.
I also find it helps to imagine extremes – in this case I imagined that I was the perfect, all powerful, infallible ‘super-hero’ that my need for control was pushing me to be – how would I ever relate to other mere mortals like that?, I wondered. It was time to get real. My self-assessments were WAY too harsh, I was NOT out of control and I was not a failure for not being the ‘super-being’ I was holding up as an unrealistic benchmark.
A final word…
People always say, ‘Accept things you can’t change’. This is really hard for me, because I believe that we can change ANYTHING in our lives. (Don’t get caught in the firing line when someone tells me, ‘that’s just the way it is Camilla, deal with it)’. What I HAVE learnt though is to accept and love the perfection in the imperfections of life. I think this is an easier way to look at the ‘accept the things you can’t change’ maxim.
When I look back at my life, I see that there have always been beautiful things that have emerged from those situations and times that could definitely be described as less than ‘perfect’. That knowledge gives me the ability to view current ‘imperfect’ situations and have faith that there is perfection in there, just waiting for the right time to emerge.
I think you can probably look back in your own life and see the perfection in the imperfections, right? Acknowledging this can make it a whole lot easier to let go of things that we feel we want to control or change. After all, we don’t want to miss out on the perfection that lies in wait for us, do we?
What do you find hardest to release control of in life? Leave me a comment below…
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